Review Summary: Riff Raff is seriously stellar when he is tongue-in-cheek and laughably bad when he is attempting anything cathartic.
When you see someone like Riff Raff--sporting any combination of shark grill teeth, cornrows, Bart Simpson chains, green hair-- rapping about slinging coke and balling hard it is almost impossible to ignore the contradictions in front of you. Fortunately, how genuine or serious Riff Raff is does not necessarily change the music he creates; there seems to be a sense of humor underlying anything remotely factual on Neon Icon. For Riff Raff, this is very marketable because both his lifestyle and music can be seen as either a really goofy, self-aware approach to rap music or as a ridiculous display of human character. Regardless of what realm of opinion you subscribe to, the result is the same: Riff Raff is really cheesy.
Among all the confusing stimuli present on Neon Icon, the most interesting aspect of the record is Riff’s lyricism. The verses on this record range from complex passages full of imagery and odd adjectives to mind-numbingly stupid witticisms and anecdotes (genuine or not). An example of the former is from “Introducing the Icon” where he raps “Billy Cosby on my couch out in Nashville/Plum couch met her orange on the cornfields/high fructose concentrated purple spill/She was grabbin’ on my schlong doing handstands/Hey Julia Stiles save the last dance;” the absurdity present in this description is refreshing if not entirely nonsensical, but nonetheless, it’s entertaining. Where Riff Raff fails to impress is on tracks like “Cool It Down” where he obviously is trying to be serious and sentimental about working hard to become famous, yet it sounds really flat emotionally. What seems to separate the good from the bad here is how Riff portrays himself and his accomplishments--Riff Raff is seriously stellar when he is tongue-in-cheek and laughably bad when he is attempting anything cathartic.
The beats on this record are all very different from each other. Sure, there are a few trap songs like “Wetter Than Tsunami” and “Tip Toeing In My Jawwdinz” which are familiar territory for Riff and many other artists in the genre. However, “Aquaberry Dolphin” and “Lava Glaciers” are great departures for Riff, especially the latter, which has a beautiful sample and orchestral back track; there is also a substantial contribution from Childish Gambino that adds a lot to the aura of the song. Where things get a little muddled is on tracks like “Maybe You Love Me” which finds Riff Raff sounding very radio-friendly, which is not very complimentary of his style of lyricism or cadence as a rapper (plus, do any of you even know who the featured artist Mike Posner is? He wants you to know there was no auto-tune used on the track). The beats on Neon Icon are the most disappointing aspect of the record because the ones that are featured create an inconsistent enough tracklist that this record feels much more like a mix-tape than a cohesive, reputable album.
Neon Icon is everything you’d expect to hear from Riff Raff, from the dolphin samples on “Aquaberry Dolphin” to the ostentatious “How To Be The Man.” There is no telling whether or not Riff Raff wants you to take him seriously or with a grain of salt; the sense of humor and the ego seem to work cohesively while defying each other at the same time. Consequently, Riff Raff represents both sides of the coin; he is seriously silly and terribly good all while not really being anything of those things exclusively. Whether or not the listener sees both sides or only one of them, they can rely on the hearing Riff Raff be Riff Raff--whoever the hell that is.